As skills gaps persist, CEDA finds temporary migration is “a net positive” for Australia

Cybersecurity skills gap won’t be met by domestic supply alone

Credit: ID 145893900 © Kanawat Thongrod |

Formal temporary skills programs have “helped to fill important skills gaps” in areas like cybersecurity, a new analysis has concluded while warning that regular changes to the programs are creating problems for employers that need more certainty in their workforce planning.

With almost 2 million temporary migrants in Australia, the new Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) analysis was intended to evaluate the economic benefits and costs the system imposes on key skills areas.

Technology industries have leaned particularly heavily on programs such as the 457 visa scheme – which was discontinued in March 2018 in favour of the current Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) subclass 482 program – to fill a surging number of positions in areas such as cybersecurity.

Australia alone will need 18,000 more cybersecurity workers by 2026, CEDA noted in citing AustCyber’s Cyber Security Sector Competitiveness Plan, with the market currently supplying just 500 graduates per year – enough to supply 4000 new workers in the same timeframe.

The recent Hays Jobs Report noted the impact of this shortfall, touching on recent findings in the firm’s Cyber Security Talent Report and pointing out that cyber security consultants “are in continuous demand as security threats become more prevalent and sophisticated”.

Relying on the domestic training and education system “will not always be fast enough to respond to emerging skill needs”, the report’s authors warn in noting that “time lags, poor information and complex projects will create skill demands that materialise just as quickly as they dissipate.”

Despite the seeming urgency of filling the cybersecurity skills gap, ICT Security Specialist roles are still relegated to the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) rather than the Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) that allows TSS holders to stay in Australia for four years instead of two.

That makes it harder for employers to source strong cybersecurity talent from overseas, where talented individuals will be looking for certainty of employment and may be reluctant to make the logistically complex move to Australia for just two years.

Those restrictions have added pressure on the cybersecurity industry, where such rapidly-changing dynamics have played havoc as employers juggle competing pressures for cybersecurity capabilities – whether as security operations centre (SOC) staff, detailed security analysts, incident response experts, security automation specialists or a bevy of other positions.

Automation, in particular, was increasingly becoming a favoured way of improving the efficiency of the cybersecurity workforce – but this, McAfee ANZ vice president Gary Denman noted, is creating yet another imperative for CIOs that are already struggling to execute skills programs.

“Increasingly we’re also seeing automation as a way to meet the demand for more skills in the face of an increasingly sophisticated threat landscape where it’s becoming near impossible to keep up with ever-evolving threat vectors,” Denman said.

“Given the high levels of staff turnover at many organisations, it is essential for CIOs to consider long term, sustainable methods to fill this cybersecurity skills gap rather than temporary solutions.”

In also targeting a longer-term view, CEDA recommended that workforce planners undertake a number of initiatives including establishing an independent committee to provide advice around skill shortages; removing the market for labour market testing; introducing a “dedicated and more streamlined path” for companies to transfer overseas employees to Australian positions; improving the operation of the Skilling Australia Fund Levy; and pushing the Productivity Commission to review the TSS program every three years rather than the current five.

Despite glaring skills deficits in cybersecurity and a host of other areas, CEDA noted that concerns about the impact of migration programs on the local workforce were continuing to compromise efforts to close skills gaps using skilled migration.

Yet waves of migration have not adversely affected the wages or jobs of Australian-born workers, the CEDA analysis concluded – noting that in some cases, “an increase in migrant concentrations in certain levels of qualification and experience is associated with a positive impact on wages and employment.”

Temporary skilled migration “has been an overwhelming net positive for the Australian economy,” the report concluded, “enabling skills shortages to be filled and contributing to the transfer of new knowledge and experience to Australian workers.”

“All of this points to the need for immigration policy to be debated and developed in a way that is considered, circumspect and forward-looking.”

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